Covid patients may be ‘three times more likely’ to experience neuropathy – ‘Could persist’

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To date, the health risks associated with coronavirus have been mostly concentrated in the respiratory system. But the novelty of the virus means discoveries about its characteristics are ongoing. Long Covid, characterised by lingering symptoms, is a growing area of interest for scientists. Now a new study has shown that some patients may have to contend with symptoms of neuropathy for months after infection.

A new study, conducted by researchers in Washington, has found that people infected with coronavirus during the early months of the pandemic suffered from peripheral neuropathy.

The findings appear to suggest those who tested positive for the virus were three times more likely to suffer the nerve condition.

Peripheral neuropathy, as defined by Harvard Health, refers to damage to the peripheral nerves throughout the body.

Damage to these nerves, which are in charge of carrying signals to and from the brain, can cause a reduced sensation, tingling, weakness, or pain in the extremities.

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Senior investigator Simon Haroutounian, chief of clinical research at the Washington University Pain Centre, led the study with his team.

He said: “We found that nearly 30 percent of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 also reported neuropathy problems at the time of their diagnosis.

“[…] For six to seven percent of them, the symptoms persisted for at least two weeks, and up to three months, suggesting this virus may have lingers effects on peripheral nerves.”

The majority of patients studied reported mild neuropathy symptoms, but some sought treatment for a pain specialist.

Treatments for neuropathy tend to be consistent, regardless of whether it is induced by diabetes, HIV or other causes.

Haroutounian added: “Several viral infections – such as HIV and shingles – are associated with peripheral neuropathy because viruses can damage nerves.

“It is important to understand whether a viral infection is associated with an increased risk of neuropathy.

“In the case of HIV, we didn’t realise it was causing neuropathy for several years after the AIDS epidemic began.

“Consequently, many people went undiagnosed with neuropathy and untreated for the pain associated with the problem.”

The study, published in the journal Pain, looked at more than 1,556 people who were tested for COVID-19 on the Washington University Campus from March 2020 through to January 2021.

Of these patients, 542 tested positive for COVID-19.

Findings showed 29 percent of the participants reported symptoms of neuropathy at the time of their diagnosis.

Haroutounian noted: “There is a high likelihood we could still help these patients, even though at the moment there are no clear diagnostic criteria or even a recognised syndrome known as Covid peripheral neuropathy.”

The findings appear to strengthen the possibility that the virus could be involved in causing symptoms of neuropathy, but further research is needed to confirm this.

The researchers also noted that their study was limited by the fact that it was conducted at a single centre.

“We want to follow up with some of those patients who have lingering nerve symptoms and learn about what is causing their pain so that we can better diagnose and treat patients moving forward,” added the senior investigator.

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